It’s not difficult to put together the list of the 10 most famous football players ever. Some have benefitted from playing in big media markets and most have won multiple championships. All left a huge impact on the game.
- Joe Namath – Namath was the kind of player who transcended, probably the most famous football player ever. He played in New York, where the media loved him, he was the highest-paid player—by far—in league history, and he changed professional football forever, by helping the American Football League beat the National Football League in the third Super Bowl.
- Red Grange – Grange was a huge college football star and was the country’s first big-time collegiate to go on to play professional football, changing the popularity of the NFL forever. The “Galloping Ghost” is certainly one of the ten most famous football players ever.
- Jim Brown – Brown played as though he was a man among boys, often times easily tearing through opposing defenses. To this day he is considered perhaps the greatest football player of all time and certainly one of the ten most famous football players ever.
- Joe Montana – Montana was the premier football player of the 1980s, the quarterback on the best team of the decade, and he sliced and diced through defenses in the postseason like no one else. His Super Bowl victories put him on a pedestal no one else could reach.
- Tom Brady – Like Montana, Brady seems underwhelming on paper, but is a master of precision in the pocket. His legendary post-season performances and leading his team to the only 16-0 record in NFL history has led to him being one of the ten most famous football players ever.
- Peyton Manning – Manning is a stat machine, putting up gaudy passing numbers that leave fans in awe. Perhaps the most well-known player in the game as of 2010, Manning burnishes his on-field reputation with numerous commercial appearances.
- Emmitt Smith – Smith was the key player on the best team of the 1990s, the Dallas Cowboys, and retired as the league’s all-time rushing leader. His prominence in three Super Bowls has lead to him being one of the ten most famous football players ever.
- LawrenceTaylor – Taylor benefited from playing in the media capital of New York City … and he also benefited from being the best pass rusher to ever play the game. He changed the position of outside linebacker and changed the way the game was played at the line of scrimmage, becoming one of the 10 most famous football players ever.
- Terry Bradshaw – Bradshaw was the quarterback on the best team of the 1970s, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and overcame mediocre early career performances to become a legend in winning four Super Bowls in six years.
- Frank Gifford – Gifford also played in New York and was the golden boy on a high-profile team, easily one of the most well-known players of his era. He went on to a career in broadcasting on Monday Night Football.
For further reading: MacCambridge, Michael. America’s Game. Anchor, 2005.